Maui champion Connecticut improves to 8-0
By Fred Guzman
They arrived on the island the week before Thanksgiving as an unranked team picked to finish 10th in the powerhouse Big East and fifth in the Maui Invitational. Three weeks later, the U-Conn Huskies and their star guard, Kemba Walker, are the talk of college basketball.
U-Conn’s rise up the national rankings started on the Valley Isle where, on successive days, Jim Calhoun’s team stormed to wins over Wichita State, No. 2-ranked Michigan State and, finally, No. 9 Kentucky, in the championship game. In the process, Walker scored 90 points over those three victories to capture MVP honors.
U-Conn and Walker have been on a roll ever since. With some help from his freshmen friends last night, Walker led the sixth-ranked Huskies to a 78-54 romp past Farleigh Dickinson.
Walker scored 21 while Jeremy Lamb added 12 and fellow freshmen Roscoe Smith and Shabazz Napier had 10 each as the Huskies improved to 8-0.
All of which is not to say that U-Conn will dominate the conference commonly and rightfully described as the Big Beast.
On Dec. 27, the Huskies open league play at No. 3 Pitt. Also on the league ledger are No. 23 Notre Dame, No. 12 Villanova, No. 7 Syracuse and No. 10 Georgetown. And that doesn’t include non-conference dates with No. 25 Texas and No. 13 Tennessee.
But it’s nice to say we were witnesses to the early rise of a young and promising team.
MORE HOOPS: Top-ranked Duke improved to 9-0 with an 83-48 beatdown of visiting Bradley despite missing its latest star player.
Andrew Dawkins scored a career-high 28, making eight 3-pointers, in place of heralded freshman point guard Kyrie Irvin, who is out indefinitely with an injured right toe.
It was Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski’s 877th victory, moving him out of a tie with Kentucky’s Adolph Rupp and putting him just two behind North Carolina’s Dean Smith for second place.
Duke, by the way, heads up a star-studded field for next year’s Maui Invitational.
A game after Kentucky coach John Calipari chastised his talented freshman forward for taking a midmorning nap before sleep-walking in a loss at North Crolina, Terrence Jones erupted for 27 points and 17 rebounds as the 17th-ranked Wildcats ripped No. 23 and previously unbeaten Notre Dame 72-58.
BYU star guard Jimmy Fredette returned to his hometown in upstate New York by scoring 26 points, leading the unbeaten and 19th-ranked Cougars to an 86-58 rout of Vermont. BYU soundly defeated visiting Hawaii in their previous outing over the weekend. Last night’s game was played at the Glen Falls High School gym, where Fredette starred during his prep days before heading west to Provo.
UH HOOPS: Miah Ostrowski is making a comeback, of sorts. Better known for his basketball exploits while attending Punahou, the 5-foot-9 multi-sport all-state athlete opted to focus on football at the University of Hawaii.
Ostrowski hasn’t been much of a factor on the gridiron, in part because he’s playing behind two exceptional senior slotbacks in Greg Salas and Kealoha Pilanres, both of whom rank at or near the top nationally in various receiving categories.
Yesterday, Ostrowski was back on the hardwood after receiving the blessing of football coach Greg McMackin to join Gib Arnold’s basketball team after the Hawaii Bowl on Dec. 24. He remains on football scholarship and will have two years to play basketball.
Ostrowski’s arrival will add backcourt depth for a UH basketball team that lost a pair of unhappy reserve guards who left the program this week – just seven games into their careers at Manoa.
Anthony Salter, a 5-11 junior JC transfer out of Iowa Western, and Jordan Coleman, a 6-4 true freshman from Los Angeles, were unhappy about their lack of playing time.
UH (5-2) next plays Hawaii Pacific (3-3) at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Stan Sheriff Center.